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Life isn't going as planned, and Sadie Middleton is rethinking her whole future. Thankfully, one thing is staying the same: She's able to share her love of quilting with her grandmother Gigi. The two of them enter a contest and win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Kilts and Quilts retreat in the Scottish Highlands. But their victory turns hollow when Gigi passes away before they can go. Sadie is grief-stricken, but her brother convinces her to take the trip to Gandiegow anyway. There Sadie meets a charming circle of quilters who remind her of her grandmother, and Ross Armstrong, a handsome fisherman who brings a smile to her face. Newly single, Ross intends to enjoy his freedom. That plan goes awry as he comes to know Sadie and a surprising spark is lit. Unfortunately, some well-meaning folks want to protect Ross from getting hurt again and are determined to keep him and the American lass apart.
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Award-winning author Patience Griffin grew up in a small town along the Mississippi River, living life in a close-knit community. She loves to quilt and has gained some recognition with her September 11 story quilt, which has toured the country as the property of the Pentagon. Visit her at patiencegriffin.com.
Actress Kirsten Potter has performed on stage, film, and television, including roles on Medium, Bones, and Judging Amy. Her narrations have won AudioFile Earphones Awards, and she earned an Audie nomination for her reading of Rise Again by Ben Tripp.
A light Scottish summer breeze deposited a leaf on the hood of Ross Armstrong’s red truck. He brushed it aside, dropped the rag he’d been using into a bucket, and stepped back, admiring his masterpiece—a newly restored 1956 Ford F-1. Ross hadn’t done it all by himself, not by a longshot. His brothers, John and Ramsay, had helped, and Doc MacGregor had been invaluable, from rebuilding the engine to the new paint job. But Ross felt a sense of accomplishment anyway.
As if the wind had dropped something heavier than a leaf—perhaps an anchor—a thought hit him, crushing his good mood. Now what am I going to do?
For the last seven months he’d spent every spare second on the pickup, when he wasn’t working on the family commercial fishing boat or helping out at NSV, the North Sea Valve Company. He’d filled his time, hoping to keep the women, and men, of Gandiegow from bugging him, trying to set him up with their daughters and granddaughters. Now that Pippa—his ex-long-intended—was married, the town thought he should be hitched, too.
Didn’t everyone have enough to fuss over with Moira and Father Andrew’s upcoming wedding than to try to marry off Ross, too?
He had his own plans. Robert and Samuel were out of school for the summer, so they could take his place on the fishing boat while Ross did something else.
He just didn’t know what.
He’d spent a lot of the time working on the truck thinking about a new career, how he might step out from the life everyone else had chosen for him from birth. His little brother Ramsay had made a change from being a fisherman to running his own business. Ross could do it, too. He’d been toying with the idea of hiring out his truck to haul goods, but it didn’t seem quite right.
“There you are.”
Ross groaned as he glanced back at Kit, the town matchmaker, barreling toward him. She might be his sister-in-law, but it didn’t give her the right to meddle in his nonexistent love life. Sure as shite, she held her damned matchmaking notebook to her chest, and right beside her was Harry Dunn looking intently at him, too.
Ross tossed the bucket into the bed of the pickup, pulled his keys from his pocket, and hopped into the front. “Gotta run.”
“Wait up,” Harry hollered. “My niece is coming in today for the quilt retreat. She wants to meet ye.”
Kit glared at Ross. “You’ll never find another woman if you keep running away.”
He turned the key and revved the engine. “Sorry, Harry. Sorry, Kit. Can’t hear ye over the noise.” He cranked the window up as fast as he could and pulled out.
“That was a close call,” Ross said to the refurbished gray interior of the truck.
He wasn’t being rude, only preserving what little sanity he had left. He’d done what the town had wanted. He’d waited years for Pippa to return so they could marry. She’d returned, all right, but instead of marrying him, she’d met and married her true love, Max. Max was a hell of a guy, and Ross wholeheartedly gave his blessing to their quick wedding. That should’ve been enough to satisfy Gandiegow. But no. The second Pippa was married, Kit started pestering Ross to take out the new schoolteacher, Kirsty. Against his better judgment, and to get Kit and everyone off his back, he’d gone to dinner a time or two with Kirsty. She was okay—nice-looking and everything—but his time would’ve been better spent chopping bait.
As he drove from the community parking lot and up the bluff, he caught a glimpse out of the rearview mirror of Kit with her hands on her hips. There’d be hell to pay for foiling her plans. He was going to have to talk to his brother Ramsay about setting his wife straight. Ross couldn’t be tied down right now. This was his time to play the field. Hell, he wanted to wear it out!
Maybe he should drive to Lios or Fairge to do just that. But first he had to pick up some goat cheese at Spalding Farm for Dominic and Claire, Gandiegow’s restaurateurs.
Farther up the road over the bluff, just past NSV, a coach bus came into view. Ross eased his truck to the side to let it pass. Harry’s niece was most certainly on that bus headed for the quilt retreat. Just like before every Kilts and Quilts retreat, the gossip mill had been abuzz, but Ross had done his best to ignore it. He pulled back into the road and kept going.
He glanced back in his mirror at NSV, Pippa’s father’s factory. Ross worked there sometimes and had invested what cash he had, not regretting the decision. NSV would make money one day, but in the meantime, what was Ross going to do? A looming dread fell over him. Have I wasted my life up until now? His little brother Ramsay, for gawd’s sake, changed his life. Ross had always worked on the family fishing boat. And that was fine, but shouldn’t he want more? What did he own besides this truck and a few shares in NSV? He’d spent his thirty years doing the right thing, being an honorable man, and what had it gotten him?
As if a thick fog had lifted, everything became clear. He was done doing what everyone else wanted, done doing what was expected!
He glanced over at the quilted grocery bags beside him. Except today. He would run errands for the village. But later . . .
Later he would make a stand and take back his life.
At twenty-two, Sadie Middleton didn’t like zombie movies, but as she stepped off the bus a mile out of Gandiegow, Scotland, she felt like the lead in her own dreadful film. Sadie of the Dead. Not some glamourous zombie either, but a plain zombie who wanted to vanish. The other women around her were excited, giddy about their first evening at the quilt retreat. Sadie felt only waylaid. Shell-shocked. Miserable. If she was still at home in North Carolina, she would be sitting on the porch with Gigi, her grandmother, drinking sweet tea and waiting for the July Fourth fireworks to begin.
Except they weren’t in the US.
And Gigi was dead.
The gravel crunched under Sadie’s feet as she made her way, along with the other quilters, to the North Sea Valve Company’s factory door. Their bus had died and coasted into the parking lot, and they were to wait here until she and the others could be transported into the small town. She leaned against the building, unfolded the printed e-mail, and read it again:
Dear Sadie and Gigi,
Pack your bags! Your team has won the grand prize in the quilt block challenge. Congratulations! You are coming to Gandiegow! For complete information regarding your Kilts and Quilts Retreat and all-expense paid trip to Scotland, please e-mail us back.
Owner, Kilts and Quilts Retreat
Having read the note a hundred times, Sadie shoved it back in her pocket. It seemed a cruel joke from the universe—to receive this letter only hours after Gigi’s funeral.
At hearing the news about the retreat, her brother Oliver had gone into hyper drive, using his grief to propel him into action. While insisting Gigi would want Sadie to fulfill their dream of a quilt retreat abroad, Oliver had made all the arrangements for Scotland—packing her bags and having her out the door before Sadie knew what had happened. His bullying made the trip feel more like a kidnapping than a prize.
Sadie’s grief had immobilized her, made her want to crawl under a quilt and never come out. She waffled between feeling despondent and angry. But the one constant was her guilt for the part she’d played in her grandmother’s death.
Her quilted Mondo bag slipped from her shoulder . . . the bag that matched Gigi’s that they’d made at their last quilt retreat together. Memories of that glorious weekend were stitched into Sadie, the moments long and meaningful. She pulled the bag up, held it close, and squeezed her eyes shut.
The last twenty-four hours were wearing on her. Sadie was exhausted, depleted. But she had to keep it hidden at all costs. She glanced over at her ever-helpful brother as he assisted the rest of the women off the bus. Good. He was being kept busy. She was sick to death of Oliver fussing over her and telling her what to do.
At that moment, two vans pulled up. A tall, nice-looking man got out of one and a very pregnant strawberry blond got out of the other. As they spoke to the bus driver, the woman handed over her keys to him.
Oliver, who had only just finished unloading the last quilter from the bus, hurried to the couple who’d brought the vans. “Excuse me?”
“Yes,” answered the man. From his accent, he clearly was from the States. Texas, perhaps.
Oliver pointed to Sadie. “My sister needs to be in the first group into town.”
Embarrassment radiated from her toes to her scalp. Dammit, Oliver. Sadie ducked behind another woman as the two newcomers turned in her direction.
“Sure,” the man said. “We can take her into Gandiegow first. I’m Max, by the way.”
Oliver introduced himself, too, and unfortunately felt the need to explain further. “My sister is ill.”
The couple’s curious eyes transformed into compassion. The women around Sadie spun on her with pity as well, staring at her as if they hadn’t just spent the last couple of hours on the bus with her in quasi-normal companionship. To them, Sadie had been another quilter, a fellow retreat goer. Now, she wasn’t. She was to be flooded with sympathy. No longer included. On the outside because of her disease.
Oliver spoke to Sadie but pointed to the vans. “Get in. They’ll get you to town.” He’d said it as if Sadie’s problem was with her ears and not her kidneys.
Without a word and anxious to hide her red face, Sadie walked to the van with a compliant exterior. On the inside, though, she was seething. She climbed in and took a seat in the back. A minute later, others were climbing in as well. No one sat next to her, leaving her alone to frown out the window at her overly responsible brother.
The couple climbed into the front of the van and began chatting with the other quilters. Sadie found out more about them and their connection to Gandiegow—Max and Pippa were engineers at the North Sea Valve Company and newlyweds. They kept up a steady conversation, asking the quilters about themselves, and explaining about the upcoming wedding between their Episcopal priest and a town favorite. Mercifully they left Sadie alone.
A few minutes later, when they reached Gandiegow’s parking lot, a group of men and women were waiting for them.
“We’re a closed community,” Pippa explained. “No cars within the village. Everyone is here to help carry yere things to the quilting dorms.” Sure enough, many of the women had wagons beside them, while the men had their muscles. “Deydie will want everyone at Quilting Central as soon as possible. She’s the head quilter and town matriarch.” Pippa made it sound as if they better do as Deydie bid or there might be trouble.
One by one, they disembarked from the van. When Sadie got out, a young woman in a plain plum-colored dress with a double-hearted silver brooch moved forward. Next to her was a young girl.
“I’m Moira,” the woman said, “and this is my cousin Glenna. We’ll help ye get settled into the quilting dorm.”
Sadie followed them, immediately pleased with both of her handlers; Moira and Glenna seemed blessedly quiet and shy.
Even though it was early evening, the sun was still in the sky, due to how far north Gandiegow was. They walked through the minuscule town along a concrete path that served as a wall against the ocean with no railings for safety. Moira pointed to where Oliver was to stay, Duncan’s Den, and then took Sadie next door to the other quilting dorm, Thistle Glen Lodge. It was nothing more than a bungalow set against the green bluffs of summer, which rose nearly straight up at the back of the town.
Glenna shot Sadie a shy glance, then turned to Moira. “Should I let Deydie know that she’s made it?”
“Aye. We’ll be along shortly,” Moira said. The girl ran off between the buildings.
Moira led Sadie inside to the way-too-cheery interior and down the hall to a room with three beds. The decorations were plaid and floral—a little French country on the northeast coast of Scotland—and too optimistic and exuberant for Sadie.
Moira motioned for her to go in. “You can store yere clothes in the armoire. The kitchen is stocked with tea, coffee, and snacks. But all yere meals are provided either at Quilting Central or the restaurant. I can bring ye scones and tea in the morns, if ye like, though.”
Sadie set her Mondo bag on one of the beds. Moira was nice, but Sadie wanted only to be left alone to crawl under the quilt and hibernate until life wasn’t so crushing. And she was so very tired. People didn’t understand that though she looked fine, she was often exhausted and feeling generally cruddy . . . her new norm. Patients with chronic kidney disease, CKD, usually weren’t diagnosed until it was too late, already in stage four like herself, and in need of a kidney transplant.
She’d found out only last month. Gigi had promised to be with Sadie every step of the way. But Gigi was gone, leaving Sadie to deal with everything alone. Oliver couldn’t; he had his own life, his cyber-security consulting business. He didn’t have time to sit with her while she had her blood drawn week after week. He couldn’t put his life on hold while Sadie waited for the day to come when the doctors would move her to the active transplant list.
Sadie looked up, realizing she’d slipped into herself again, something she’d been doing a lot ever since her diagnosis.
Moira, though, seemed to understand and went to the doorway. “I’ll give ye a few minutes to settle in. Then Deydie expects all the quilters at Quilting Central for introductions and the quilting stories.” It was another warning that Sadie shouldn’t dawdle.
She jumped at the sound of hard knocking at the front door.
Moira put her hand up, either to calm Sadie’s frazzled nerves or to stop her from going for the door herself. “I’ll see who it is.”
Sadie dropped down beside her bag and smoothed her hand over the pinwheel quilt that covered the bed. A minute later she heard her brother’s exasperating voice at the entrance. Heavy footsteps came down the hall. She thought seriously about crawling out the window to escape what was sure to be more nagging.
She didn’t turn to greet him. “What do you want, Oliver?”
“I came to walk you to the retreat. We have to hurry though. One of my clients needs me to hop online and check for a bug.”
If only Gandiegow didn’t have high speed Internet, then Oliver wouldn’t have been hell-bent on coming to Scotland to keep an eye on me. But her brother’s IT business was portable.
Moira saved Sadie. “Don’t worry. I’ll get her to Quilting Central safely.”
He remained where he was. Sadie could feel his gaze boring into her back.
“Go on, Oliver. Your customer is waiting.”
She still didn’t hear him leave. Sadie rolled her eyes heavenward and heaved herself off the bed. She plastered on a fake smile before facing him. “I’m fine. Really.”
“Okay. But if you need me, I’ll be next door at Duncan’s Den.” The other quilting dorm, only a few steps from this one.
Oliver held his phone up as if to show her he was only a call away.
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